Heart Health Articles

Humans And Apes Have Ability To Laugh

September 21, 2017

Humans are not the only animals with the ability to empathize and mimic, and perhaps also to laugh; it seems orang-utans also have a sense of empathy which forms part of our ability to laugh. A study in Biology Letters suggests that the ability to laugh could possibly come from an early primate ancestor to both contemporary apes and humans.

The researchers found that facial expressions were contagious among the orang-utans. The speed at which they copied a gaping mouth resembling laughter suggests their movements were involuntary.

The researchers observed the behavior of 25 orang-utans in 12 centers in different parts of the world. They noticed that an open, gaping mouth would be mimicked by a companion within half a second. They pointed out that among humans, mimicking behavior can be both voluntary and involuntary. Until the observation of these primates nobody had seen evidence that these types of responses existed among non-humans.

Co-author, Marina Davila Ross, wrote "What is clear now is the building blocks of positive emotional contagion and empathy that refer to rapid involuntary facial mimicry in humans evolved prior to humankind." Ross added that these findings could help us learn more about empathy and its relevance and importance to some animals, especially those that live in groups.

"Rapid facial mimicry in orangutan play"
Marina Davila Ross, Susanne Menzler, Elke Zimmermann
Biology Letters DOI 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0535
Click here to view abstract online